Run Time: 87 Mins
What To Expect: Possibly the most violent war movie ever filmed
In the 1950’s the original Fires On The Plain drew criticism for being too violent. People still liked their war movies sappy and divorced from reality, possibly because they were still recovering from the trauma of the conflict. A while back actor/director Shin’ya Tsukamoto remade the movie and if you think in this day and age nothing can impress you in terms of movie violence, this little-known Japanese movie wants to slap you in the face.
Based on the novel by Shohei Ooka, the film follows a soldier of the Imperial Japanese Army near the war’s end. The army is on the retreat in the Philippines. Having fought longer than any other army in the war (the Japanese were at war since 1937), the Japanese soldiers are haggard, running out of ammunition and out of food. Shinya Tsukamoto is one, who not only sees his platoon obliterated by a strafing run, but also has to continue the retreat on his own while suffering from tuberculosis. Eventually, he runs into a different battalion, but they are ultra-hardened and even further round the bend than he is.
If you took the most realistic scenes from Saving Private Ryan, and the most violent scenes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you still wouldn’t come close to the astonishing verisimilitude of this horror show. Other war movies, even like Hacksaw Ridge, try to put a certain entertainment spit shine on the brutality. Not here though. The jungles of Southeast Asia compete only with Stalingrad in WW2 in terms of outright visceral combat hell, this movie lets rip on the senses.
Severed heads, rotting, hang from the trees in the background, with the director purposefully paying them no special attention (such details are caught by the viewer). Bodies lay on the ground with maggots beginning their feast, only the bodies are not yet corpses but men hours away from death writhing in agony. In battle scenes, blasted open heads on the ground have the brains that spill out squashed by panicked boots running for cover. The only thing missing in this little-known movie is the stench of rotting meat. Truly, the Predator himself would probably get the hell outta this joint.
Then of course there’s the ‘C’ word. The ‘C’ word is only introduced in war when the gloves have been removed and one or both sides are going to fight to the death. Cannibalism only occurred on the Eastern Front and Southeast Asia in WW2 and of course, sticking with the film’s theme of it it happened in reality, it happens here, it is a thing in this one. Although, mercifully, the director kind of handles that with a bit more sublety – this is something the viewer is asked to reflect on.
My only complaint for this otherwise excellent movie is the shaking of cameras in battle scenes, but those are few and far between in this driven character study anyway. So make no mistake, this is not The Thin Red Line, this isn’t even Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a movie that wants to impress upon you that war is a smelly death machine and that humans are most assuredly the worst animals in the known universe.